Let’s talk about dogs . . .

A couple of days ago I sent out a newsletter and mentioned that we had just adopted a new puppy, and that I’d picked her up from a breeder.

Then I received a notice that one of my subscribers had unsubscribed with this note:  “It makes me sad to hear you got your dog from a breeder when there are so many unwanted dogs available.”

All right–I know some people routinely THINK this, so I’m going to address it head on.  But first, I have to say that I’m a little weary of people judging other people without knowing anything about a situation.

We love mastiffs.  We got our first girl from some crazy ladies out in the woods, and the 16 week-old pup had never been socialized properly. We tried everything, including a canine psychotherapist, and ended up having to put Sadie in her own room whenever people came over.  We loved her until she died at age nine, which is pretty old for a mastiff.

One thing you have to understand about mastiffs–though they are gentle by nature and temperament, they are as strong as four adult men, and they can’t be browbeaten. They MUST be raised correctly and trained appropriately–not “attack” trained, but a simple “Sit,” “Down,” and “come” will do. An incorrectly trained mastiff could seriously injure someone.

We got out second dog from a backyard breeder.  Justus was beautiful, came from championship stock, and sweet as sugar, but he developed hip dysplasia and we had to put him down at age five. Heartbreaking for all–he got in the pool and couldn’t get out because of his hips, and, sobbing, I had to call my vet and have her come over with help to get my flailing dog out of the pool and put him to sleep because I didn’t want him to drown. He had been suffering, and I couldn’t watch him suffer any more.

I learned something:  no more crazy ladies in the woods; no more backyard breeders. 

Our third mastiff was Charley, who came from a breeder who tested for hips, eyes, etc.  He was sweet and lived until age nine.

Our fourth mastiff was a girl from Mastiff breed rescue.  She hated men, and once broke our glass door and window trying to eat the UPS man.  We learned to deal with it, and she relaxed. I think her man-hate sprang from being kept as a “guard dog” in a mechanic’s shop and being kept on a chain during daylight hours. That will make any dog aggressive. She lived until age eight, and passed away six weeks after Charley.

Our fifth mastiff was Dani, from a breeder who tested for all the appropriate things, but she died at three years from a cancerous tumor.

Puppy pic for the SPCA.

Our next mastiff was Billy, from a breeder.  He had one eye, so the breeder gave him to me because she knew I’d take care of him and give him a loving home. We did, even though his timidness (probably because of his limited vision) made him unfriendly to strangers.

Our seventh mastiff was Daisy, adopted from the SPCA. She was sweet and we knew nothing about her background. For two weeks she was an angel, but one day, while some neighborhood boys were walking her, she picked up a neighbor’s small dog and shook it as it it were dead.  The poor aged, little dog could have died, and I felt horrible. I told myself: no more walking by the neighborhood kids; I need to control her. 

A few days later I took her out on a special collar they’re not supposed to be able to escape. A neighbor ran by with her little dog, and Daisy wriggled her way out of the “inescapable” collar and took off after that little dog. I took off after her, screaming, “PICK UP YOUR DOG!” The lady did, and by the time I reached her, Daisy was jumping and trying to get that little dog while the lady held it high in the air.  I apologized and told myself:  No more walking Daisy, period. 

A few days later Daisy attacked Dani and drew blood.  Three strikes–and each time Daisy’s world was getting smaller and smaller.  For the sake of Daisy, my family, and my other dog, I had to take Daisy back to the SPCA. I begged them not to give up on her, but to find her a home where she would not be around other dogs. Later they told me they found such a home–and I hope it was the truth.

Then came Ivy, and now Jazzy, all from the same breeder.  Because I’ve learned that if I’m going to have dogs that are huge and strong and have the potential to do harm, I MUST be responsible about their source. And though I do use a breeder for my mastiffs (because I’ve learned that health and proper temperament testing are crucial), I have spent hundreds of hours volunteering at the SPCA, for the Humane Society, and for breed rescues . . . because I love dogs.

I do not support pet stores that sell animals because the breeders who supply those stores do not care or know where their dogs are going. But I find my dogs through responsible breeders who make me sign a contract, who are honestly concerned about the improvement of the breed, and who keep in touch with me over the years. Sometimes they ask me to send certain information to them so they can transmit it to researchers who are trying to stamp out certain canine diseases. They always ask how the dogs are doing. Responsible breeders are doing important work for the benefit of their breed. And yes, they make money. But they spend bucketloads of it, too, taking dogs to the vet, buying food and supplies, vaccinations, testing fees, etc.  Shouldn’t they be allowed to profit from their hard work?

I DO support responsible breeders, and to lump them in with backyard breeders or puppy mill breeders is irresponsible.  So please do not judge me for doing the best for my family, my guests (who find themselves standing face-to-face with 200 pound dogs), and the breed I love.

I love dogs–I think they are one of God’s greatest gifts to us. And I will not judge anyone with a dog, I will accept them and do my best to make sure their relationship works.

That’s it. I’ll climb down from my soapbox now, and I hope you understand. When you get a dog, you have to be sure it is a good fit with your family because the relationship should last until the end of the dog’s lifetime.

These car-park valets once spent a sweltering afternoon with me helping guests for a Humane Society fundraiser. I snapped pics of the guests, they parked cars. Nice young men. 🙂

Aside: when I first began taking pictures at the SPCA, I was also writing descriptions of the dogs to go with each portrait. Once I was writing a description for a giant breed, and I said, “If you consider this dog, you might want to think about health insurance, because the cost of a round of antibiotics can be considerable . . . ”   One of my fellow volunteers said, in so many words: “No, you can’t write that. We don’t want them to think, we just want them to take the dog.”

Ouch.  Trust me, you need to think.  This should be a long-term relationship.

That’s it for now. Thanks for listening.






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